Sons of the Forest may not come with a grainy VHS filter (yet), but the moment you fire it up it’s clear this Steam Early Access survival game has one foot in the 80s. The menu theme sounds like it’s ripped straight from a mid-tier VHS movie, the sort that was made to sate rental-hungry video owners.
Its influences are, however, more specific than general 80s shlock. The Forest and, by extension, Sons of the Forest, owe a lot to 80s shockers like the infamous Cannibal Holocaust. Oh, and Disney – but we’ll get to that later. So let’s dive into five movies that, as confirmed by developer Endnight, Sons of the Forest wouldn’t have existed without.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980, dir. Ruggero Deodato)
An infamous video nasties, Cannibal Holocaust is one of the first found footage films and was muddying reality long before The Blair Witch Project. It follows the story of four film makers who head into the Amazon Rainforest in an effort to make a documentary about cannibal tribes. They never come back, but their footage is found and it doesn’t tell a pretty story.
However, while that might sound like a cue for a cameramen vs cannibals story, Cannibal Holocaust’s story is slightly more complicated than that. It becomes apparent that all but one of the filmmakers did some pretty horrific things to make their supposed documentary. That, in turn, led to their brutal demise.
Director Ruggero Deodato went so far as to get the movie’s stars to disappear from public view. He was later arrested for murder but released when he proved the actors were still alive. It is the case, however, that the movie does involve the actual torture and slaughter of animals, which has rightly been excised from some current releases. And, at the time, it was banned in multiple countries.
In Sons of the Forest, you may not have a camera but you’re very much an invader. As Endnight’s Ben Falcone notes, “You’ve invaded their forest, you’re murdering them, you’re chopping down all their trees. Maybe they’re just trying to survive in this forest. Maybe you’re the bad guy.”
The Hills Have Eyes (1977, dir. Wes Craven)
The protagonists of Wes Craven’s 1977 movie, another of Endnight’s inspirations, are subject to the same kind of misfortune as Sons of the Forest’s. Stranded in the Mojave Desert (Nellis Air Force base will be familiar to anyone who’s played Fallout: New Vegas), they’re picked off by a group of cannibal hillbillies. They ultimately fight back but, by then, the body count is pretty high.
It’s not quite as gruesome as Cannibal Holocaust but it’s vicious and brutal in other ways. Like the movie, Sons of the Forest underlines that, no matter how well you arm yourself, this isn’t your turf. And while the jury’s out on whether the game’s cannibals qualify as mutants, some of their number are every bit as imposing as Pluto, Michael Berryman’s towering antagonist.
Available on: Amazon, Screambox, Shudder
I Spit on Your Grave (1978, dir. Meir Zarchi)
I Spit on Your Grave wasn’t banned in as many countries as Cannibal Holocaust but, in the 80s, this exploitation film was very much considered a video nasty. Critic Roger Ebert called it “.. a vile bag of garbage.. a movie so sick, reprehensible and contemptible that I can hardly believe it’s playing in respectable theatres.”
Was he right? Let’s just say that, even today, it’s a tough watch. It features a prolonged sexual assault sequence that, while it drives the heroine’s quest for bloody vengeance, is still hard to justify. The Forest begins with your son being kidnapped so the drive for vengeance figures heavily into that game.
You’re Just Some Guy in Sons of the Forest so its influence is less obvious there. But the game does echo I Spit in Your Grave’s rawness and brutality, to the point that it, in the aftermath of what’s arguably self-defence, you can feel genuinely uncomfortable.
Available on: Amazon
Bambi (1942. Supervising dir. David Hand)
No, you’ve not clicked through to a different article. Admittedly, Endnight may not have specifically name-checked Bambi but they’ve cited Disney movies as a major influence. Interviewed on this very site, creative director Ben Falcone explained:
“Disney stuff was an inspiration for the daytime in the forest. There are God-rays from the sky everywhere, butterflies and generally cute looking areas. One of the things I don’t like in horror games is when they’re all one tone, when they’re always just dark and depressing.”
It’s true, Sons of the Forest’s overworld does look absolutely gorgeous, during the day at least. There are even cutesy touches like a butterfly landing on your axe, or a bird perching on a skull. If not for the cannibals, mutants and helicopter wreckage you could almost be on holidays.
Available on: Disney Plus, Amazon
The Descent (2005, dir. Neil Marshall)
The Descent isn’t an 80s movie by any stretch of the imagination but it’s influence on The Forest and Sons of the Forest is very much in evidence. As pretty as it is skipping through trees and leaping over streams, down in the dark it’s a different story.
The movie sees a group of cavers enter a previously uncharted cave system only to discover its home to a group of blind, flesh-eating humanoids. Things go about as well as you might expect and, should you head underground in Sons of the Forest you can expect a similar reception.
You’ll encounter mutants out in the open but there, at least, you have somewhere to run. With no automap and minimal light, you could end up fumbling for your life. And, given that some of the game’s more useful items are secreted underground, you’re going to have to decide whether it’s worth the risk.
Available on: Amazon
There are other works that Endnight has drawn upon. I Am Legend (the book, not the Will Smith movie) is another influence and, Cannibal Holocaust aside, Endnight has also been inspired by other Italian cannibal/zombie movies of the era. But if you want a taste of the movies that shaped Sons of the Forest, there’s plenty here to sink your teeth into.